BIBLE STUDY SERIES #521, 522 and 523

18 November, 2001

DEUTERONOMY 24: LAWS AGAINST WANT AND INJUSTICE

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies on the Great Plan by which The Almighty God is steadily drawing His Creation towards the perfection of His Kingdom reveals that this plan centres upon the formation of one selected line of people chronicled in The Scriptural Record, which descends through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and thence through the whole history of the nation of Israel, and therein to provide, in the person of Jesus Christ, the focal point of His mighty purpose. This series has brought us from the call of Abram in Genesis 12, down to today's study in Deuteronomy 24.

In this chapter, as Keil and Delitzsch point out, the first five verses contain two laws concerning the relation of a man to his wife. Of these, the first, found in verses 1-4 has reference to divorce. However, divorce is not established as a right; all that is done is that in case of a divorce a reunion with the divorced wife is forbidden, if in the meantime she had married another man, even though the second husband had also put her away, or had died.

1. When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
3. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4. Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

The putting away, (divorce) of a wife with a letter of divorce , which the husband gave to the wife whom he put away, is, as pointed out by Keil and Delitzsch, assumed as a custom founded upon tradition. This tradition left the question of divorce entirely at the will of the husband. The wording concerns the idea of "shame", and thus the exact nature of that qualification seems to have required some more precise definition as to the breadth of the permitted grounds for the action. This, as might have been expected, raised debate among later scholars. The question of divorce was left entirely at the will of the husband. A case of adultery would not have entered this debate, because the punishment for that was clearly stipulated, being death. Again, remember that the society within which such laws apply would be one in which a clear social contract has been undertaken and is being strictly applied by every member of the whole national family. The letter of divorce was to make official the "hewing off", or cutting off, from the man, with whom the wife was to be one flesh (Gen. ii. 24). "The custom of giving letters of divorce was probably adopted by the Israelites in Egypt, where the practice of writing had already found its way into all the relations of life. The law that the first husband could not take his divorced wife back again, if she had married another husband in the meantime, even supposing that the second husband was dead, would necessarily put a check upon frivolous divorces. Moses could not entirely abolish the traditional custom, if only 'because of the hardness of the people's hearts'" (Matt. xix. 8).

The defilement, or uncleanness, would probably have to do with the fact that multiple partners had participated in an act of sex with the woman. We might remember the New Testament reference to the condition quoted by Christ, in the words "Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery", found in Matt. v. 32. The defilement which the second marriage had created would mean that the former wife, should she then seek to return to the first husband, would thereby be repeating the act of defilement, as Keil and Delitzsch explain. Such defilement was an abomination before Jehovah, by which they would cause the land to sin, i.e. stain it with sin, as much as by the sins of incest and unnatural licentiousness (Lev. xviii. 25). This is very clearly reflected in Jeremiah 3:1

Superficially, the question might seem to have less interest and little application in the present condition of society. However we must point out that everything which has just been explained regarding the man and his wife has a national application because the nation of Israel was married at Sinai to Yahweh, their God, at which time they accepted the Ten Commandments, and every stricture and stipulation of God's law contract has a national application and outworking. Israel was divorced by God as we can verify by reading Isaiah 50:1 "Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away."

Remembering that the tribes of Israel had split into two nations, the northern one called Israel and the southern one called Judah, we can better understand that passage, and the passage in Jeremiah 3:8 which says this: "And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also." To Judah, Jeremiah 3:14 states: "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion." Hosea 2:2 says to the northern Israel nation "Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts;"

It took the death of Israel's husband in the form of Jesus on The Cross to eliminate the bar against a re-marriage to His divorced Israel wife of the Old Testament, and allow a re-marriage to her as a bride in the New Testament, as explained by Paul in Romans 7:2: "For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband." This was why Christ had stated in Matthew 15:24 "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" This will also explain the question of His disciples to the Risen LORD in Acts 1:6 "When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" When Christ was speaking to the woman at Jacob's Well in Samaria, he told her of her marital condition. That statement also might be profitably reconsidered in light of these themes. Let us now continue to read the rest of Deuteronomy 24:

5. When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.
6. No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge.
7. If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.
8. Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do.
9. Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam by the way, after that ye were come forth out of Egypt.
10. When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.
11. Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.
12. And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge:
13. In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God.
14. Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates:
15. At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
16. The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
17. Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge:
18. But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
19. When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.
20. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
21. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.
22. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing.

All such laws can find in some respect both an individual and a national application as we have seen, to the nations of Israel collectively.

25 November, 2001

DEUTERONOMY 25: JUSTICE, MERCY AND PURITY

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies on the Great Plan by which The Almighty God is steadily drawing His Creation towards the perfection of His Kingdom reveals that this plan centres upon the formation of one selected line of people chronicled in The Scriptural Record, which descends through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and thence through the whole history of the nation of Israel, and therein to provide, in the person of Jesus Christ, the focal point of His mighty purpose. This series has brought us from the call of Abram in Genesis 12, down to today's study in Deuteronomy 25.

However, just before we start our study of that chapter, I might revert to a few verses in the previous chapter which might beneficially be accompanied by a few comments. The New Bible Commentary notes on Deuteronomy 24:5-22 contain these comments on "Pledge" (6, 10-13) "These rules are illustrations of that 'gentleness' which is the fruit of the Spirit, for they inculcate respect for the feelings as well as for the needs of the borrower. Willingness to pledge a millstone or a garment would betoken poverty under primitive conditions." The reference to man-stealing (verse 7) states "In Semitic custom man-stealing was the occasion for a blood feud; Hammurabi's law punished it by death." At verses 8 and 9 it notes concerning mention of Miriam, "Every wilderness experience was to be regarded as a lesson illustrating God's will and purpose for His people. ... Who but Moses could have written this?" Concerning "strangers" it says "God's care for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow is beautifully revealed in these exhortations, which were surely known and obeyed by Boaz", and it notes the reference in Ruth ii. 15. Concerning a labourer's hire, it mentions the Epistle of James v. 4. Finally, of the words in verse 16, the words "Shall not be put for death" indicate the power of the human judge. "God visits the consequences of the fathers' sins upon their children, but then His judgments never err."

Moving to Chapter 25, the heading which is given to this section by Keil and Delitzsch is "Corporal Punishment, Levirate Marriage, and Just Weights and Measures." To the first three verses of this chapter, that reference, applies the heading "corporal punishment."

1. If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.
2. And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number.
3. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.

The number of stripes received was proportional to the measure of guilt, but the upper limit was forty, which, lest a miscount exceed that number, was, by custom, dropped to thirty-nine. Justice must not descend to humiliation. The practice, as also in Egypt, was that a stick was used to beat upon the back of the guilty as he was held by hands and feet upon the ground, in the presence of the judge. I might note that in any country in which there are neither financial arrangements, nor permanent facilities for incarceration in jails, forms of punishment which have a physical application are often the available alternative. Verse 4:

4. Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.

Dealing, as it does, with the prohibition against muzzling an ox, this law will, in its spirit of justice, immediately be seen as having far wider applications than simply for the animal. The Apostle Paul uses it in the wider sense in I Corinthians 9:9, and in I Timothy 5:18, concerning a labourer who should not be deprived of his wages.

Verses 5-10 concern levirate marriages. The New Bible Dictionary, item "Marriage" mentions that the name is derived from the Latin "levir", meaning 'husband's brother'. It also notes that in Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21, a man is forbidden to marry his brother's wife. In light of the levirate law this clearly means that he may not take her as his own wife, whether she has been divorced during her husband's lifetime or has been left with or without children at her husband's death. John the Baptist rebuked Herod Antipas for marrying the wife of his brother Herod Philip (Mt. xiv. 3, 4); Herod Philip was still alive.

5. If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.
6. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.
7. And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother.
8. Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her;
9. Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house.
10. And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.

The social arrangement which was judged to be the norm involved the movement of a widow to receive the duties of her dead husband from the brother of her late husband. This would be a form of marriage distinct from the usual one. Keil and Delitzsch explain that this brother would, of his brother's widow, beget a son or children with her, "the first-born of whom was 'to stand upon the name of his deceased brother,' i.e. be placed in the family of the deceased, and be recognised as the heir of his property, that his name (the name of the man who had died childless) might not be wiped out or vanish out of Israel. The point is to legally continue the name and inheritance of the dead husband within Israel. A daughter could inherit by the ruling of the case in Numbers 27:1-8, concerning Zelophehad's five daughters. When a brother refused this succession, the shoe was made the symbol of "standing in his brother's shoes" and this mention will yield understanding of the words of John the Baptist in John 1:27 regarding unworthiness. The custom of tying old shoes to a departing vehicle carrying a bridal couple indicates that the new husband now stands in the shoes of the bride's father in relation to his bride. In Matthew 22:23 ff. this law was used by the Sadducees to pose a problem to Christ about the resurrection. We continue at verse 11:

11. When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets:
12. Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.

As Keil and Delitzsch explain: "But in order that the great independence which is here accorded to a childless widow in relation to her brother-in-law, might not be interpreted as a false freedom granted to the female sex ... the law is added immediately afterwards, that a woman whose husband was quarrelling with another, and who should come to his assistance by laying hold of the secret parts of the man who was striking her husband, should have her hand cut off." The sense would seem to be that she has dared to assault the future procreative capacities of the man.

Integrity in trade is assured in the next section which follows.

13. Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.
14. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.
15. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
16. For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the LORD thy God.

The words of that last verse form a summary of all breaches of the law. As expressed by Keil and Delitzsch, "But whilst the Israelites were to make love the guiding principle of their conduct in their dealings with a neighbour, and even with strangers and foes, this live was not to degenerate into weakness or indifference towards open ungodliness. To impress this truth upon the people, Moses concludes the discourse on the law by reminding them of the crafty enmity manifested towards them by Amalek on their march out of Egypt, and with the command to root out the Amalekites ...", who had attacked the stragglers on the march.

17. Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt;
18. How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.
19. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.

We shall continue our series of Bible Studies next week.

2 December, 2001

DEUTERONOMY 26: FIRSTFRUITS, TITHES, EXHORTATION

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our series of Bible Studies on the Great Plan by which The Almighty God is steadily drawing His Creation towards the perfection of His Kingdom reveals that this plan centres upon the formation of one selected line of people chronicled in The Scriptural Record, which descends through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and thence through the whole history of the nation of Israel, and therein to provide, in the person of Jesus Christ, the focal point of His mighty purpose. This series has brought us from the call of Abram in Genesis 12, down to today's study in Deuteronomy 26.

In this, the concluding chapter of the great oration which the aged Moses delivered before the assembled Israelites, we find an exhortation concerning the giving of their tithes unto The LORD their God, Who has led them for the lifetime of most of this generation. Of the first portion of the chapter, The New Bible Commentary says "The forms for the presentation of firstfruits and tithes are a beautiful model of praise and prayer." Keil and Delitzsch use the heading "Thanksgiving and Prayer at the presentation of First-fruits and Tithes." They state "To the exposition of the commandments and rights of Israel Moses adds, in closing, another ordinance respecting those gifts, which were most intimately connected with social and domestic life, viz. the first-fruits and second tithes, for the purpose of giving the proper consecration to the attitude of the nation towards its Lord and God."

1. And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein;
2. That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name there.
3. And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto the LORD thy God, that I am come unto the country which the LORD sware unto our fathers for to give us.
4. And the priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the LORD thy God.
5. And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous:
6. And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage:
7. And when we cried unto the LORD God of our fathers, the LORD heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression:
8. And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders:
9. And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey.
10. And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O LORD, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God:
11. And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.

Keil and Delitzsch note of these verses: "Of the first of the fruit of the ground, which was presented from the land received from the Lord, the Israelite was to take a portion ... and bring it in a basket to the place of the sanctuary, and give it to the priest who should be there, with the words, 'I have made known to-day to the Lord thy God, that I have come into the land which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us,' upon which the priest should take the basket and put it down before the altar of Jehovah (vers. 1-4). ... All that is implied is, that, for the purpose described afterwards, it was not necessary to put all the offerings of first-fruits into a basket and set them down before the altar. ... 'The priest' is not the high priest, but the priest who had to attend to the altar-service and receive the sacrificial gifts. ... The fruit was the tangible proof that they were in possession of the land, and the presentation of the first of this fruit the practical confession that they were indebted to the Lord for the land. This confession the offerer was also to embody in a prayer of thanksgiving, after the basket had been received by the priest, in which he confessed that he and his people owed their existence and welfare to the grace of God, manifested in the miraculous redemption of Israel out of the oppression of Egypt and their guidance into Canaan."

At the words in verse 2, "Go unto the place", The New Bible Commentary notes: "Only those who are in communion with the Giver can rightly present the gift", and of "The Priest" in verse 3, "The High Priest or his deputy; he is clearly different from 'the Levite' of verse 11. ... The directions for the priest are found in Lv. xxiii; these are for the worshipper." In the same verse, the words "I profess..." draw the comment "The first act is to be a profession that God has fulfilled His ancient promise (Gn. xxviii. 13). The firstfruits contain the promise of the harvest, which God will provide in due time." Moving to verse 5, it notes "A Syrian" means 'Aramaean' as in the margin of the RV. Jacob's mother and kindred came from Syria or 'Aram' (Gn. xxiv. 10, xxv. 20). "The formula of verses 5-10 is Mosaic in style, with references to the hard bondage (6), the cry for deliverance (7), and the mighty arm that redeemed them (8)."

12. When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled;
13. Then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them:
14. I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use, nor given ought thereof for the dead: but I have hearkened to the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me.
15. Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey.

The New Bible Commentary, at verse 12, "An end of tithing" notes "The festal character and generous mode of distribution indicate that the 'second tithe' is intended here." Again, at verse 13, "I have brought away", "I have put away" in the (RV) "the literal word is 'burned' (from the same root as 'taberah'... ) The meaning is that all that is due to Jehovah has been duly paid, and nothing left in the house." It draws comparison with Mal. iii. 10, which states "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."

Keil and Delitzsch clarify the matter of the wording in these verses by noting that "I have cleaned out the holy out of my house" means that the holy, which is that which is sanctified to God, and thus which was a debt to God, was wiped out of his house, (wiping out the debt), and that the act of removal (touching the holy things) was not done while in a state of legal (Levitical) uncleanness. It was not done in a state of mourning, which would involve a state of being unclean.

The following final verses form the close of the lengthy Mosaic discourse which we have been examining for some time, and which began back in chapter 4:44

16. This day the LORD thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.
17. Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice:
18. And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments;
19. And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.

Here, The New Bible Commentary notes that "A closing exhortation follows the commandments which gave to Israel a wonderful constitution, suited for a liberated people." at the words in verse 16, "this day", it says "This note of time bounds the law at its commencement and its close (xi. 26, 32, xxvi. 16, 17). 'This day' God speaks to us through His word (2 Cor. vi. 2)." "Avouched" (verse 17) draws the comment "A rare word, possibly a technical term relating to a covenant. There may have been some unrecorded token of assent by the people." Again, at verse 18, "His peculiar people", we read "See vii. 6n.; 1 Pet. ii. 9." Also the Commentary notes of the words "As he hath promised (18)", that "Grace turns the law into promise." and finally, in verse 19, "To make thee" it advises to compare Phil. ii. 13, which reads "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

Keil and Delitzsch put the matter thus: "At the close of his discourse, Moses sums up the whole in the earnest admonition that Israel would give the Lord its God occasion to fulfil the promised glorification of His people, by keeping His commandments with all the heart and all the soul." They continue "There are two important points contained in this ... The acceptance of the laws laid before them on the part of the Israelites involved a practical declaration that the nation would accept Jehovah as its God, and walk in His way ...; and the giving of the law on the part of the Lord was a practical confirmation of His promise that Israel should be His people of possession, which He would glorify above all nations... .

We shall continue our Bible Studies next week.

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